New WC Economic Opportunities Minister Beverley Schäfer on lobster, corruption and what's first on her to do list | Fin24
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New WC Economic Opportunities Minister Beverley Schäfer on lobster, corruption and what's first on her to do list

Nov 13 2018 09:58
Marelise van der Merwe, Fin24
beverley schafer


Western Cape Economic Opportunities MEC, Beverley Schäfer, was sworn in on November 1. At the time, she said the provincial economy and job creation were "at the centre of what we do in the Western Cape" and that – as such – her focus would continue to be "on the programmes that have made it possible to create 95 000 new jobs in the past year in the province".

She also vowed to look at how big business and SMEs could best be partnered for growth in a "supportive ecosystem". Two weeks in, Fin24 caught up with the new MEC.

Fin24: The TAC for West Coast Rock Lobster has recently been cut nearly in half, following a court ruling on the widely supported application brought by WWF-SA. However, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) also announced its intention to appeal the ruling. What is your view on these developments and the long-term path forward?

Beverley Schäfer (BS): The fact that the DAFF wants to appeal a ruling in this matter brought by the WWF – an organisation with no political affiliations and with an interest in protecting our resources – when West Coast rock lobster stands at less than 2% of the pre-fished stock size, is ludicrous.

It is alarming that they would dare to do such a thing. It also shows that DAFF does not adhere to its mandate, which is to "ensure the conservation, protection, rehabilitation and recovery of depleted and degraded natural resources" and begs the question, what other factors are at play here?

Fin24: What's first on your To Do list in your new role? 

BS: I’ve been engaging with both departments in my portfolio – agriculture and economic development and tourism – to get a sense of the key issues and challenges they face.

I will continue to pursue issues around our oceans economy, because I believe the degradation of our resources has a profound impact on job creation and the ability of small scale fishers to participate in the economy. One of my key focus areas will also be on youth, and I want to unpack opportunities in our provincial economy that will benefit the youth and small businesses.

Fin24: You recently wrote an op-ed where you tackled the label of being "obsessed" with the DAFF. Can you summarise the most important reasons for this "obsession"?

BS: At the core of my "obsession" is hounding out the corruption in the DAFF in order to protect our oceans and our fisheries.

It is estimated that 96 million abalone have been poached out of Western Cape waters since 2006, mostly destined for the overseas market. My obsession is also fuelled by the fact that when poaching busts are made, abalone is confiscated and then stored in DAFF facilities before being auctioned off on the international market.

The proceeds of these sales are meant to go towards the protection of our marine resources. But the DAFF recently told Parliament they did not have the money nor the resources to adequately protect the coastline and fishing communities. Where is the money going?

Fin24: What are the top three things you'd like to see changing for small-scale fishers in the Western Cape, and how do you believe they can be achieved?

BS: I would like to see growth in projects involving fish farming and aquaculture in order to create further economic opportunities for small scale fishers. The stark reality is that our marine resources have dwindled to such a point that small scale fishers will not be able to rely solely on the sea. In North Africa, there are large-scale fish farming projects functioning incredibly well.

I’d like to see opportunities for upskilling so that small-scale fishers can remain part of the oceans economy, without necessarily being fishermen. There are opportunities in kelp collecting for abalone farming around our harbours; and opportunities in boat repair – which would fit into our Project Khulisa goal of expanding or oil and gas offerings – at Saldanha Bay, where boat building and ship repairs will be a key industry. Khulisa’s other main focus areas are agri-processing and tourism. Fish processing and tourism opportunities around our harbours and oceans could be harnessed here.

One of the biggest systemic problems facing our oceans economy is the disarray at our 12 small boat harbours. Disarray and degradation encourages illicit activity in these harbours, and the tourism opportunities are destroyed and lost. A focus on cleaning up these harbours and making them more functional will not only assist small scale fishers making use of them, but also unlock tourism and leisure opportunities.

Fin24: Poaching and illegal trade are massive problems. In your view, what can be done to turn this around?

BS: Enforcement is key here, but enforcement is the mandate of DAFF and its 12 agencies. Perhaps we need to relook at the Western Cape playing a more active role in enforcement. Poaching is a transnational, syndicated crime which is often linked to drugs and gangs.

However, the people being arrested are runners and divers. They are not members of syndicates, but people acting out of pure economic necessity, who have not been offered a viable economic alternative.

I also believe we need to address the South African public’s tendency to believe that it is okay to buy poached resources. That needs to stop.

It's a good idea to have areas of controlled abalone ranching and farming, where licensed South African restaurants can purchase abalone and have it on their menus in a controlled, sustainable way. That way it would act as a tourist draw card and South Africans could also enjoy it. The fact that it is completely illegal here fuels the demand for it.

* This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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beverley schäfer  |  poaching


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